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UCLA

Trending Now: New Life for Urban Sidewalks

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By Patty Park '91

Published May 18, 2012 2:20 PM


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The parklets shown above and below are two of San Francisco's 14-plus parklets created under its successful Pavement to Parks Program.

After receiving an extraordinary $100 million gift from alumni Meyer and Renee Luskin last year, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs cast a renewed vision and blueprint for reshaping public life in Los Angeles. What could L.A. look like in 20 years? How could we use our collective intellect and resources to move the needle on issues like health care, education, transportation, housing and crime?

A simple sidewalk improves public life.

The innovative minds at the school are leading the way in changing how we look at urban living. One example: Professor of Urban Planning Anastastia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean, is literally changing the landscape of life in downtown L.A., starting with the sidewalk.

"The sidewalk used to be just a place for movement, where people met other people," she says. Then "sidewalks started to disappear from our cities and people started disappearing from sidewalks." But Loukaitou-Sideris, a native of Greece—where streets are constantly full of life—is out to change that. She's working with the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative to revitalize empty sidewalks with "parklets."

A trend within a trend

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A parklet in Silver Lake is set off with giant green polkadots.

Parklets are small-scale parks created at traffic triangles, parking spaces, parts of wide street lanes and other under used asphalt space. They have already popped up in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia and even Long Beach.

But leave it to L.A. to set a trend within a trend. While other parklets offer a place to sit and relax, L.A.'s first one—on Spring Street, between Sixth and Seventh—will be an "exercise zone" with workout machines bolted to the street. The goal of Loukaitou-Sideris and those working with her is that the parklet will not only bring people together socially, but will also provide an opportunity to improve physical health and combat the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Since cities don't have the funds to acquire huge chunks of land and convert them to open space, parklets are cost-effective ways to encourage recreation in dense, low-income areas," she says. With her eye already set on a second site in East L.A, she hopes exercise zones will one day be interspersed throughout the city, enhancing urban life and improving public health—a win-win.

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